Anna Joy Springer’s The Birdwisher (2009) is a novella about a girl, a pigeon-detective and a murderous mystery. Written after Dashiell Hammet’s “Dead Yellow Woman,” this debut book from Springer (Blatz, Cypher in the Snow, The Gr’ups, Sister Spit) is beautifully illustrated throughout by Sam McWilliams. Grotesque, noir and rendered in gorgeously inventive prose. The Birdwisher is the first book from Birds of Lace.
A video of Anna Joy Springer, Julianna Snapper and Daniela Sea performing part of The Birdwisher at the release party for the book (including the text from pages 73-74 of the book in song form):
Anna Joy Springer is a writer and artist who used to sing in the punk bands Blatz, The Gr’ups and Cypher in the snow. She received her MFA in Artibus Elegantibus from Brown University and is currently Assistant Professor of Writing in UC San Diego’s Department of Literature. Her teaching and writing interests include: graphic texts, experimental prose, women in punk rock, feminist ethics, Buddhism, and alternative writing workshop pedagogies. Her fabulist memoir The Vicious Red Relic, Love is available from Jaded Ibis Press. You can writer her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sam McWilliams has a BFA with high distinction from in painting and drawing from CCAC. She works as a tattoo artist in San Francisco. You will most often find her tattooing, drawing, surfing, meditating or bird-watching in Golden Gate Park. For tattooing and illustration contact Sam at samtattoo [!at] gmail.com.
Prologue: An Example, A Challenge and 11 Real Facts
A big fleshy mass fills the oval mirror, both abstract and grotesque. The mirror’s
frame is cracked. It is dry, antique plastic, the color of tusk. Breathing steam on a handmirror with a cracking plastic frame is a virgin’s proud vagina. Larger than life, it is the landscape – two folds of terrain, two thin hills. Charred tree-trunks, thick as thighs, bacteria inching over the soil. Oily white handlotion drips onto the
The reflected vagina is poised beneath the real one. They’re exchanging looks. Both are intact, the real one and the reflected one, a hymen apiece, uncut. A teenager balances on the balls of her feet stoned but steady, her mother’s orange-handled sewing scissors splayed out beside the hand-mirror.
The teenager fires up the rest of her joint, why not? Flips on the Siouxsie-Sioux sexpunk. White electric, flashbrash-shock and a hot seed pops out of the joint, onto her lip. Her face jumps open in slo-mo.
Her bedroom walls are pasted over with magazine pages, ads for perfumes and fashion spreads. The models are costumed in retrospect tonight, sleek. Suspicious in trenchcoats, pointed-toe loafers, bare nipples like tiny accusations, tilted felt fedoras.
The scissors, a ballerina, gets off her ass, a large central screw. She’s ready to do it, yeah. Ready to do it to it, cut through it, yeah. In joy, the scissors spins on point. Her ankles steel, her toes like blades, she loves her work. Kicks one leg out and leaps. And there’s some sort of animal panting sound coming in through the wall. The music won’t drown it out, it’s getting louder and louder. What is it? It’s creepy, the absolute worst, listen to it, listen to it wail.
This time, it’s your noise to tune
out, not mine. Let’s have the
virgin be you, for a change. Since
we’re inventing, since you seem
willing. This time you’ll star, and
I’ll sit back and watch. Here’s
your direction, ready?
[Through the wall
you can hear
your mother singing.
everything in her
Her song is a scale.
“It’s award night
Say it with her.
Say it loud.]
Now everything’s all fable and backdrop with friendly animal woodsmen and crafty spy gadgets. The mirror on the bedroom door seems to bow to the heroine
as she inches toward it. Bows like a gentleman lab-mouse. She scoots across the rug, her bottom burns. Hot red fleshy. Close to the mirror now, she leans into her sturdy old dresser, knees outbent like wings. The sexbeat soaks through everything, every fissure and motion. The closet door bangs and blushes, the pool of hand-lotion smears itself wildly over the surface of the abandoned handmirror, thumbtacks re-insinuating themselves into swollen walls, boring, cursing, everything fucking.
[But, can you do it?
Ready or not
Now’s your shot.]
The record’s really hopping, black grooves arching up into the needle. Trusty scissors leaps toward the target. Fragile hymen plugs her ears, covers her face, don’t wanna know. No no, don’t kill me. Yes yes, I will. See the girl’s concentration, smell astringent in her pores. She’s got cottonmouth, licks the condensation from the side of her empty glass.
The virgin wets a leg of the scissors with her mouth, tasting rust, and everything keeps on banging away, the poster girls sucking their knuckles and shaking their hair out from under their hats.
[As long as you’re a virgin,
you’ll always be a child.
You’ll never get away.
You have choices.
It’s not like
there’s a gun
to your head.
get rid of him.
Or fucking grow up.
Stop being a child.
Leave. Run away.
Which will it be?
You have choices.]
All the Esprit models on the walls cinch their cute beige raincoats tighter, cock the brims of their fedoras so you can’t see their faces, retreat into doorways. “Justice is never easy to come by,” they whisper. The scissors loop their
orange handles around the girl’s fingers, and one pointed leg jerks out.
You can’t get
the scissors to cut
through the meat.
You’re a big
She rests her forehead against the cool mirror, the scissors still poking inside her. She looks at her eye, so close and pulsing.
[It would be easy
to get rid of him.
No one would think
you did it.
You’re just a child.
It would be so easy.
You could pull
one of the bottom logs
from the woodpile
when he’s bent over.
The top ones would roll down
and crush him.
That would be so much
better than this.]
She imagines kind strong hands digging her stepfather out from beneath the pile of almond wood logs. A tragedy. Red and blue coplights flash against stucco. A
mirror held under his nose. No breath on the glass, he’s a deadman. The virgin stands behind her mother while the authorities scratch notepaper. Her fingers push into the back of her mother’s thin wrist. Crows nod off on the lines, dark autumn clouds behind them. The light lining the lower edges of the cloud brightens violently, the scene goes nuclear white. A bell rings, and doors crack open all along the street.
[But if he dies
your mother won’t
for sex anymore.
Your poor mom,
who gets nothing
what she needs.
And that will be
your selfish fault.
She’s not just a mother.
She’s a woman.
Don’t take that
She’s a woman,
not just a mother.
Don’t be a baby.
Snap out of it.
She flips through the Polaroids she’s swiped from her mother’s night-stand. She wonders if they know she has them. Everyone spies on everyone here. The pictures are dirty and she wants to show them to someone but doesn’t know who. She thinks they point to something wrong, maybe something wrong with her.
She can hear her mother having an orgasm, loud through the wall. It’s a scale. She flips through the Polaroids. Okay. There’s her mom in the picture. There’s her clownish curls of orange pubic hair parted like a hoof. There’s her thighs, falling down her bones like syrup. There’s her freckled butt parting, chunky puffy clouds. There’s him inside her.
[You’ve got choices.]
Love or shame strengthens the girl. She forces the scissors through the last strip of hymen. The shock is a knife up into her gut. There’s a burst of sheer silence.
And she’s laughing without meaning to. Plant the flag! Blow the brass! Laughing! But nobody’s there. Look! She’s made a mess. Chipped teeth, a hard laugh, a dirty pink mess on the carpet, and she’s roaring, eyes streaming. It’s so fucking funny all of a sudden. She feels so much better. It worked! She’s a full-fledged woman, with a mess to clean up. The house is still, but her mind is cheering.
She really hopes they were watching through the mirror. She thrusts her middle finger at the mirror, lets her tongue flap out and waggles it, grinning.
Necessity isn’t the mother of invention. Audacity is.
Outside in the bright post-apocalypse glow, the shepherd of souls stands on a dry grassy hill in the distance. Below him, a flock of sheep relax, jaws gently working, some running along the hillside.
The Lord’s face is kind, the sky completely empty. Doors all along the street open wider. People step into their yards, families, American families, standing on their lawns mouths open. The children in their parents’ arms aren’t heavy, the parents smile.
The families wave.
He drops to the ground. He’s been hit!
“What’s worse? To be killed?” Jesus asks. “Or to kill?”
The families retreat, backing into their stucco homes. The teenager stays on her lawn and counts cars going by. Her fantasy fades in wisps, like cigarette smoke.
“But Jesus wouldn’t be angry. Right?” the teenager asks, still in her bedroom, still so high she can’t get herself up off the ground. “If anyone could understand, He could. If anyone knows about sacrifice, it’s Jesus.”
There’s an emphatic thud against the window.
She pushes up from the carpet, thighs sticky. She pulls the curtains out of the way, wipes steam from the window. Down on the ground a pigeon twitches, stunned.
Just The Facts:
I did hear an emphatic thud against my window. Something had crashed and dropped.
There was a pigeon on the ground beneath my window, hurt.
I was alone in the house. No one was screwing in the other room when I tried cut through my hymen.
The pigeon’s neck was broken.
You don’t have to be wasted to notice that scissors look like a headless ballerina with puffy sleeves.
I wish I had never found those Polaroids of my mother and step-father.
I only killed on purpose once.
I showed the pictures of my mother to two stoner girls from church then felt ashamed when they shrieked in disgust.
I wished for a kind of make-believe justice; I kept thinking something heroic would come.
I was thirteen when I lifted the pigeon to my chest. I wore a C-cup. I loved Ecclesiastes and Michael Jackson.
They say we have only our stories. They’re wrong. We’ve also got our style.
Printed on recycled paper with soy based inks